Pope Francis meets with Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani | DW News

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  • DW News published this video item, entitled “Pope Francis meets with Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani | DW News” – below is their description.

    On the second day of his trip to Iraq, Pope Francis has held talks with the country’s influential Shia Muslim cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. The historic meeting took place at Sistani’s home in the holy city of Najaf. No press were allowed inside for the talks, but a few white doves were released as the Pope entered – underscoring his message of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians in Iraq. The Christian community there has dwindled after years of war and persecution. Those that remain hope a show of solidarity from Sistani could help secure their place in Iraq.

    The meeting was months in the making. Every detail, carefully planned. After a photo op, the two men spoke privately for 40 minutes. The ayatollah reportedly telling the pope he also believes Christians should be able to live in peace in Iraq and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis.

    It’s a powerful statement from Sistani, who rarely makes his opinions known. When he does, Shi’ites in Iraq and around the world take note.

    Later, the pope arrived in the ancient city of Ur, known as the birthplace of Abraham, the biblical patriarch revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews. A fitting place for an interfaith meeting, where Francis underscored his message.

    In praying for peace in the Middle East, the pope singled out Syria, ravaged by a decade of civil war. And he condemned religious extremists, who use terrorism to achieve their aims.

    The “pilgrim of peace,” as Pope Francis called himself, is aware of the risks he’s taking amid an ongoing pandemic and regional conflict.

    But he is not traveling alone. He’s protected by one of the largest security deployments in recent Iraqi history: 10,000 personnel, by some estimates, including special forces, 24-hour drone surveillance, and undercover intelligence officers.

    It’s the first visit by a pope to Iraq – coming just days after a rocket attack that seemed to put the trip in doubt. His first remarks in Baghdad acknowledged the difficult days most Iraqis have had to endure without a military escort.

    For over two decades now, sectarian conflict has driven most of Iraq’s Christians out of the country. In 2014, the so-called Islamic State began targeting Christians, driving hundreds of thousands more from their homes. The pope’s visit is a symbol of victory over this tide of violence.

    The Cathedral in Baghdad was the site of a 2010 terrorist attack. The Pope’s visit there drew strong reactions from the community. Pope Francis also plans to visit Mosul – a recaptured stronghold of the Islamic State.

    The meeting was months in the making. Every detail, carefully planned. After a photo op, the two men spoke privately for 40 minutes. The ayatollah, reportedly telling the pope he also believes Christians should be able to live in peace in Iraq, and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis.

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    In This Story: Iraq

    Iraq, officially the Republic of Iraq, is a country in Western Asia. The capital and largest city is Baghdad. Iraq is home to diverse ethnic groups including Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, Assyrians, Yazidis, Shabakis, Armenians, Mandaeans, Circassians, Sabians and Kawliya. Around 99% of the country’s 38 million citizens are Muslims, with small minorities of Christians, Yarsans, Yezidis and Mandeans also present. The official languages of Iraq are Arabic and Kurdish.

    Iraq has a coastline measuring 58 km (36 miles) on the northern Persian Gulf and encompasses the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range and the eastern part of the Syrian Desert. Two major rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, run south through Iraq and into the Shatt al-Arab near the Persian Gulf. These rivers provide Iraq with significant amounts of fertile land. The region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, historically known as Mesopotamia, is often referred to as the cradle of civilisation.

    Iraq is a federal parliamentary republic consisting of 19 governorates, four of which make up the autonomous Kurdistan Region. Disputes over the sovereignty of Kurdistan Region continue.

    Iraq is a founding member of the UN as well as of the Arab League, OIC, Non-Aligned Movement and the IMF.

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  • In This Story: Syria

    Syria, officially the Syrian Arab Republic, is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon to the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest.

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